Jeff Herr, a finalist in the 2011 Big Gig Contest on 610 Sports Radio, was born and raised in Kansas City. Following the Chiefs, Royals, and Jayhawks all his life has led him to blog about all three extensively at the-jeff-report.blogspot.com. He has also spent time covering the Royals for the blog site kingsofkauffman.com as well as serving for a period as the lead editor of throughthephog.com a blog covering the Kansas Jayhawks. When not writing about the local sports scene, he pays the bills by serving as an accountant.
Jeff Herr: Royals Need to Adapt
by Jeff Herr,posted May 29 2012 5:58PM
Looking back to 10 years ago, the Royals were behind the proverbial 8-ball in just about every category that allowed a small market team to compete. The Royals didn’t spend money on free agents, they didn’t spend money in the draft, and they had no presence in Latin America.
This is the reason that Allard Baird was fired and Dayton Moore was hired (in 2006). It’s not clear how much of this was Baird’s fault, but it seemed there were things going on in the world of baseball that the Royals couldn’t grasp.
Moore was installed and he talked about “the process.” This, of course, meant building things from the ground up. It included finding talent, drafting it, getting them to commit, and turning this team into a winner.
Moore increased the Royals presence in Latin America and they are one of the most successful franchises in that realm. Whether he had to convince David Glass to do so or just forced his hand by making the picks, they have opened up their pocket books to sign talented young players in the draft.
Within five years this led Moore and the Royals to having the best farm system in baseball, and possibly even baseball history. Job well done as it seemed the Royals were well on their way to ending their consistently poor performance.
Unfortunately, wholesale changes are not something the Royals were intent on doing. They made easy changes that made sense and should have been made sooner, but when it comes to looking outside the box for new ideas to make this organization competitive they chose to keep the status quo.
The Royals are still run, on a baseball level, just as they always were. While others around them have embraced unique and advanced approaches to varying levels of success, the Royals have stayed the course, trusted “the process,” and find themselves only slightly further along than where they started.
When Billy Beane took over the A’s and started using the “Moneyball” approach of advanced statistical measures to help run his team, it was laughed at. People kept laughing until his team went to the playoffs. While it’s a legitimate argument how much that actually helped versus a confluence of timing of having great players (Miguel Tejada, Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, etc.), the fact that they were willing to embrace this approach shows something the Royals never have (at least to that extent).
If there was a team worse than the Royals from the late 90’s to the early 2000’s it was the Tampa Bay Rays (formerly Devil Rays). As an expansion team that started in 1998, the Rays were only mediocre or worse through their first 10 years. They won 70 or more games only once in that time frame.
Right in the middle of that, the Rays were bought by a couple of new age Financial Industry wizards. They promptly installed former investment banker Andrew Friedman as the team’s General Manager. People weren’t exactly sure what the Rays were doing, but they understood something that many organizations have struggled with and still can’t seem to figure out.
The Rays knew, just as the A’s did a few years before, that the deck was stacked against them. As a small market team with less-than-super-rich owners, they couldn’t compete on the financial level. They had to develop better scouting, better player development, and use different management techniques to turn things around.
Four years after Friedman took over; the Rays were in the World Series. They continue to churn out talent from their farm system year after year. We are currently in the seventh year of Moore’s regime and the Royals haven’t sniffed the playoffs. There are more talented players on the roster now than before he took over, but the Royals still find themselves in need of starting pitching, possibly even more so than we he first arrived.
The Royals continue to have the same developmental problems that they’ve always had. For the Rays to turn things around, they didn’t just change the way they scouted and drafted and called it a day. They made changes that permeated the entire organization. They utilize different techniques to squeeze the most out of trades and the draft, but also out of their current players with new developmental and management techniques.
The Royals have no basis to think that they are doing it right. All the success they’ve had in the draft has been lessened by their inability to develop more than just a couple of players and have success at the major league level.
To make matters worse, change is coming again. With the draft right around the corner the areas where the Royals have been taking advantage are no longer there. They can’t outspend teams in the draft or Latin America anymore. The only thing they’ve done well over the last six years has been, in large part, taken away from them. Now they are going to have to find other ways of leveling the playing field.
For those that know me, I’ve lately become an advocate of long-toss as an organizational pitching philosophy. While my personal opinion is that the virtues are many, that’s not the point. The point here is that the Royals have been stubborn in their ability to find and implement new philosophies. Long-toss pitchers are more and more common at every level and the Royals refuse to embrace it. The issue being that they are not allowing players to do what they need to be successful.
This is just a microcosm of the fact that the Royals are stuck with a mentality that grit wins baseball games, statistics don’t matter, and there’s nothing wrong with the way they do things. When Nolan Ryan took over the Texas Rangers in late 2008 he asked the questions of what they were doing wrong. He wondered why they couldn’t develop or even keep pitchers healthy at the minor league level. He didn’t necessarily like the answer but he made changes that put them in the World Series two years in a row.
The Royals are in a similar position. There is something fundamentally wrong with how they do things. If there wasn’t, they would be on the verge of their 17th losing season in their last 18 years. The Royals need to step back and ask the questions. They may not like all the answers but they need to be asked. Once they do, they can realize that there are other avenues they can go down to be successful. The Royal way doesn’t’ have to be the only way.
They can embrace things like long-toss. It won’t destroy their organization and it may just help some of their players be successful. They can realize that they don’t have to change the lineup every single day. They can try different philosophies with how they handle pitchers, how they coach them, and how they play defense. They can change to better work with what they have instead of trying to force what they have to work with their philosophy.
Until the Royals get past this, there won’t be winning baseball in Kansas City.
The honest, grass roots will to be a winner is not present within the Royals organization. This is also true with some of the other major league clubs. Big league baseball has became more of a way for a "player" to get a big paycheck rather than playing for fun and playing with that will to win.
This is also the way it is for the owners and front office staff. Baseball for many of the clubs is just a business. There is no true, old-fashioned sense of pride and winning. As long as they can say they own or run a major league team, that's all the pride they need. Why change? That's uncharted territory and it's uncertain. The status quo is giving them what they "need".
The old Royals(Brett, Patek, Rojas, White, Washington, etc.) liked playing the game and wanted to win. They played hurt unlike today's wimps. They didn't go on the DL for a pulled thumb muscle or a stubbed toe. Maybe some of the old-timers need to come back and have a managing interest in the team...from the front office down to the clubhouse.
You're correct. Change does need to happen. Not just in team philosophy, but with individual philosophies as well.